Church gets fresh start in new home
St. Sophia Ukrainian Catholic Church aims for regular services with its new priest
Tomorrow will be a triple celebration for the congregation of St. Sophia Ukrainian Catholic Church in Honolulu.
They have a new home and the promise of regular Sunday services now that a local priest has signed on. And Bishop Richard Seminak is in town to give his blessing to the changes that strengthen the church after a year of uncertainty following the retirement of its clergy and a move from Leeward Oahu.
Seminak will preside at the 10:30 a.m. Divine Liturgy in the side chapel of Holy Trinity Church, at 5919 Kalanianaole Highway. The bishop will install the Rev. Halbert Weidner, pastor of the Roman Catholic parish, into a dual role as pastor and administrator of St. Sophia.
St. Sophia is part of the Eastern rite of Catholic Christianity, separate from the Roman Catholic Church but recognized by the Vatican. Officially called the Greek Catholic Church, it traces its roots through the early church of Constantinople rather than Rome, Seminak said. The late Pope John Paul II described the Eastern church as "the other lung" of the ancient church, the bishop said in an interview.
"Eastern churches were always divided into ethnic entities," and services have always been held in the vernacular language of a country, said Seminak, who heads an eparchy encompassing 17 states, with headquarters in Chicago.
Although St. Sophia is a Ukrainian ethnic church, its services are in English. The only Greek Catholic Church branch in Hawaii, it was founded in 1975 by the Rev. Jules Riotte, who was also an entomologist at Bishop Museum. In recent years the congregation met in Waianae at the Kahumana transitional housing compound founded by the Rev. Philip Harmon. Both Harmon and the Rev. Thomas Marick have retired.
"We appreciate the goodness of Father Hal, who opened his oratory to our wandering group," said Seminak. He said Weidner is not the first Catholic priest to be given "bi-ritual" status.
The Eastern church liturgy is similar to the Catholic Mass with more of an "element of mysticism," said Seminak. A key difference is the "solemnity of the sanctuary," he said. The consecration of communion bread and wine takes place behind a screen of icons, where only ordained priests may set foot.
"We preach the good news of Jesus in our own fashion to whomever will listen," said Seminak. "I think the element that's missing in today's Christianity is mysticism."
A core group of about 20 people kept St. Sophia from foundering, and the bishop compared them to the little bit of yeast that makes bread dough rise. One of the group is Debra Amaral, who said she converted to the Eastern church because she found similarity to her native Hawaiian culture in its rituals, especially the chanting.
Amaral will lead the bishop into St. Sophia chapel tomorrow with a Hawaiian chant that gives thanks for the new place of worship. For more information, call her at 781-1549.